In James Baldwin’s, Sonny’s Blues, he uses many different symbols throughout his short story to present the overall theme of suffering to the reader. He uses symbols such as music, characters facial expressions and the presence of ice, light and darkness. In the very beginning of the story when the narrator is reading the paper and he comes across the news of his brother, Sonny, he says, “A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long”. (Baldwin 600) He also says “…it was a special kind of ice. It kept melting, sending trickles of ice water all up and down my veins, but it never got less.” (Baldwin 600) This is not the only time that the ice presents itself. It reappears when the narrator meets one of Sonny’s friends who is also a drug addict, and again later when Sonny is over for dinner with the narrator’s family. The ice that appears whenever the narrator feels an uncomfortable or painful situation represents how the narrator is incapable of dealing with his own emotions well. The ice also allows the reader to empathize with how the narrator feels about how his brother is leading his life.
Another symbol Baldwin uses throughout Sonny’s Blues is light and darkness. Throughout the story there is a contrast of light and darkness. For example, in the first paragraph of the story, Sonny’s Blues Baldwin writes, “I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside.” (Baldwin 599) This contrasts the lightness and the darkness. It demonstrates the contrast between his own suffering and the world around him and the suffering of the world. Another example of lightness and darkness Baldwin uses in the short story is when the narrator’s mother is recalling the story of the narrator’s father and his brother she says “there was a moon that night, it was bright like day.” (Baldwin 607) This is when the narrator’s father...
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